Monday, February 6, 2012

A Cobbler’s Tale

Cobbling. It’s a word that’s wouldn’t look out of place in a 17th century Old English dictionary. But for 45-year-old Paul Lavigne, it’s what he does for a living.

Born and raised in the pocket-sized town of Mattawa near North Bay, Lavigne is the owner of Moneysworth and Best, a shoe repair service at the Billings Bridge shopping centre. 

Lavigne moved to Ottawa when he was 20 years old, and was introduced to cobbling when he found a job at a shoe repair store in Rideau Centre

He worked there for five years before becoming the regional manager of Moneysworth & Best in Eastern Ontario, whose head office was in Toronto. But two years later the opportunity arose to buy a store in Ottawa, and Lavigne took the chance with both hands. 

“The company was downsizing and that’s when I purchased this store here,” he said “I’ve been working in my own business now for almost 15 years.”

Lavigne said it’s been an exciting journey for him, and that business is flourishing for his shop in this small, yet bustling mall.

“It’s different every day, we’re always getting something different so it’s a challenge – it’s not boring,” Lavigne said.  “I think we’re very lucky, being in a small shopping mall that the business is doing very well.”

Married for the better part of 17 years, Lavigne has no children but is the proud owner of two cats.

“Cats are cheaper,” he explained. “They listen and don’t talk back,” he added with a laugh.

Some family tree searching by Lavigne’s father found that footwear related professions seem to run in their blood - at least distantly.

“It’s funny, my dad did some family history research on our family and he found that our great-great-great grandfather came from France, and he was a shoemaker there,” Lavigne said.

With the help of Roeun Luy, his lone trusty assistant, Lavigne said the store easily treats 300-400 pairs of shoes every week, with the most common kind of mending being done to heels.

In his 20 odd years of cobbling, Lavigne has encountered many odd things, not the least of which was changing the colour of a piece of lingerie for an adventurous party-goer.

“I’ve dyed a corset for a woman a long time ago for a Halloween costume,” Lavigne said with a small chuckle. “That’s been the strangest thing I’ve ever done.”

Lavigne feels that in this day and age, technology adds to the challenge of mending shoes.

“It’s a little harder,” he said. “You got to really adapt to the new stuff that’s coming out and be more open-minded when you’re fixing stuff.”

“It’s not as easy as it used to be 20 years ago, the shoes are not made the same, the quality is not the same so you got to figure out ways around it.”

According to Lavigne the business of mending shoes is going to continue to strive, seeing that consumers have pulled their purse strings just that little bit tighter.

“I think it’s going to stay strong because people seem to be watching their money more,” Lavigne said. “I find that people come to check to see what it would cost to fix their stuff before they go out and buy new things.”

He feels it wouldn’t be a bad idea if post-secondary schools started introducing cobbling into their programs.

“It would be nice to see a college come out with the trade to teach people how to do this,” Lavigne said.

“I have customers who complain all the time that there’s not enough shoe repair and there aren’t enough people who know how to do it.”

So what’s the secret to keeping that favourite pair of shoes in tip-top shape?

“Make sure they’re always clean, protected, and polished,” Lavigne said. “Just making sure the soles and the heels are always maintained - you do that you can keep them forever.”

As Lavigne pours glue into the heels of a pair of Uggs, a woman hustles into the store, clutching a bag with three pairs of shoes crammed into it. 

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